Cooling More With Less

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Can you name the two pieces of equipment in this photo, and describe how they relate to one another? If you live in a warm climate and occupy a smaller amount of space, chances are you will have little trouble with both parts of this question.

On the other hand, if you live in a colder climate, and have a larger, older, and traditionally-built home, there’s a good chance you may instead struggle with our question.

The Mini-Split

As you might have known already, the items in the photo to the left are the indoor and outdoor components of a small, two-part or “split” air conditioning system, commonly known as a mini-split.

Mini-split systems are commonly-used in many parts of the world, but are almost unheard of in other places. But this heating and cooling divide is changing, as building quality and energy efficiency standards improve, making mini-splits a logical choice in all but the coldest of climates.

As the name implies, mini-splits are small cooling or heating/cooling systems, with an outdoor heat pump and indoor fan and heat-exchanger. The heat pump can be ground or roof-installed, and the fan and exchanger can be wall, ceiling, or floor mounted. The two components are joined by a flexible wiring and conduit package that normally is less than 10 cm (or 3 inches) wide.

Being small, mini-splits generally pack less heating and cooling punch than larger and centralized heating and cooling systems. But because mini-splits do not use ducting like traditional heating and cooling systems, they are often much less expensive to install and maintain.

For these reasons, mini-splits have been the growing heating and cooling system of choice for smaller housing units in many temperate to tropical areas. Notably, while mini-splits were initially single zone systems (designed to serve one room or common area), multi-zone systems are now available.

Small Buildings To All Buildings

With the rise of well-insulated and more airtight buildings, mini-splits now make sense in most parts of the world, including ones where building owners and contractors have low familiarity with the approach.

As the heating and cooling requirements of homes and other buildings are reduced through new energy efficiency requirements and practices, a mini-split system should be considered. This is true even in the case of fairly large buildings in cool climates, as long as they have advanced insulation levels and air infiltration prevention features.

Importantly, this potential appeal of mini-splits extends to green building of all forms. Mini-splits are in fact often a lower-cost, lower-energy, and even greener approach than past alternative heating and cooling practices – whether floor thermosiphoning floor systems, earth sheltering, or active solar heating.

As the lower capacity of mini-split systems becomes less of a barrier to their use through reduced building heating and cooling needs, mini-splits offer a number of important benefits:

  1. Simple & inexpensive
  2. Easy to install & maintain
  3. Lower building costs
  4. 30%+ efficiency gains
  5. Healthier than ducts
  6. Relatively quiet
  7. Unobtrusive
  8. High design flexibility
  9. Multi-zone available

Click here to learn more about mini-split systems.

Given these advantages, we would encourage you to consider mini-split systems for your design, construction  and renovation projects. This important new way of heating and cooling promises to allow thoughtful building owners, contractors, and designers to do more with less.

As we develop our post stream, which will include regular assessments of current design and building approaches, expect us to examine each building’s energy efficiency goals and the potential to use smaller and lower costs heating and cooling systems like mini-splits.

In the meantime, we would invite your comments on similar or alternative building technologies and methods.

Tell others about ArchaNatura…encourage progressive building & design!

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